Skip to main content

There is a topic, a meme, a banner that Conservatives continue wave;  a banner that fuels legions of like-minded patriots to fall in-line behind it, whenever it is spoken.

That banner is the all-purpose amorphous idea of "American Exceptionalism."  That somehow America has a unique special destiny among nations;  and that our choice of National Leader in the next election, will either put that "unique destiny" back on track -- OR as Conservatives will rage, we can continue to see our American destiny derailed.

The problem I see, is that progressive-thinking people often have trouble responding to these nationalistic charges and one-dimensional rallying cries -- we generally want America to become more "fair and equitable" for everyone, much more than we want "American exceptionalism" writ large.

BUT our national critiques feed right into the Conservative narrative, that "Libruls are at heart Socialists -- and they only want to take away your stuff, and give it to those who didn't really work for it".  Conservatives will contend that 'Democrat' America-bashing is the antithesis of "American Exceptionalism". That this is the road to American Mediocrity.  That this is the road, from which we MUST Exit.  And far too many hard-working, exhausted Americans will believe them.

This is tricky political-water-cooler terrain, but I raise it since I see it as THE ideological battleground on which the next election will either be won or lost, in my opinion. The potency of this Patriotism "thought virus" has not been lost on Romney or Gingrich.  And at CPAC, this exceptionally simple banner was one of their major themes, as per usual:

Now is the time to promote American exceptionalism, remove barriers to upward mobility for those in need, and put the nation back on a path to renewed prosperity for all.

Look, the Obama presidency has been a disappointing failure. He should have taken steps immediately to restore confidence in the American economy.

Instead, he sidetracked the economy to pursue a debt-fueled ideological agenda that squandered the trust of the American people.

Text of Paul Ryan’s CPAC Speech -- “America Deserves a Choice” -- February 9, 2012

For their part, organizers say the magic’s still there at CPAC.

“This great annual tradition is an opportunity for the conservative movement to set our agenda for the coming year, hear from our most influential leaders and unite and energize an army of patriotic, committed conservatives in the pursuit of a return to American Exceptionalism,” American Conservative Union chair Al Cardenas said in his opening remarks on dais.

Even At CPAC Conservatives Seem Despondent About 2012 Choices
by Benjy Sarlin & Evan McMorris-Santoro, talkingpointsmemo -- Feb 10, 2012,

Sounds like the ideological battle-lines are being drawn up to me ... winning the hearts and minds of a Nation's inherit "natural patriotism", is not something to be taken lightly ... especially when our natural tendency, as progressives, is to criticize and correct the misdeeds of that very same Nation.  That is often our singularly-focused 'Job One'.

We might take solace in the fact that "American Exceptionalism" has two-sides to the tale. But constantly hearing the harsh critiques about the Country that most, naturally want to take pride in, rarely fosters the far-reaching hope in the future, upon which our Nation was originally built.

Do you see the dilemma?

Can that exceptional founding hope of America be rekindled?  Should it be?  Is it outdated? Is "American Exceptionalism" simply very selective history-telling, which always puts our unique Country in the "best possible light"?  It seems the Conservatives have already taken their stand on the topic:  

Right or wrong, America our country, special among all nations, is "exceptionally" endowed "by our Creator" to follow our very abundant wealth-creating pursuits. It is that uniquely American opportunity for all, which still makes America "Great". And it is that "exceptional" freedom that must be protected from overreaching Government intrusion ... that would seek to re-distribute your wealth -- your happiness to somebody else.

Or so they will say ... so they will persuade folks, to vote against "their own best interests" once again.

Here are some deeper considerations from some objective thinkers, who have a thought or two, on our uniquely American opportunity, for Life, Liberty, and the endless Pursuit ...

Over the last two centuries, prominent Americans have described the United States as an "empire of liberty," a "shining city on a hill," the "last best hope of Earth," the "leader of the free world," and the "indispensable nation."

Most statements of "American exceptionalism" presume that America's values, political system, and history are unique and worthy of universal admiration. They also imply that the United States is both destined and entitled to play a distinct and positive role on the world stage.

The only thing wrong with this self-congratulatory portrait of America's global role is that it is mostly a myth. Although the United States possesses certain unique qualities -- from high levels of religiosity to a political culture that privileges individual freedom -- the conduct of U.S. foreign policy has been determined primarily by its relative power and by the inherently competitive nature of international politics. By focusing on their supposedly exceptional qualities, Americans blind themselves to the ways that they are a lot like everyone else.

This unchallenged faith in American exceptionalism makes it harder for Americans to understand why others are less enthusiastic about U.S. dominance [...]

The Myth of American Exceptionalism
The idea that the United States is uniquely virtuous may be comforting to Americans. Too bad it's not true.
by Stephen M. Walt,  -- November 2011

What?  America is NOT special? But, but ... What about the American Revolution?  What about all the 'rugged individuals' that built this country brick by brick?  Valley by valley. Territory by territory.

What about that uniquely American "entrepreneurial spirit" that lures us all on, with the distinct possibility, no matter how practically remote, that

"We too, can each one day become rich ... if only we work hard enough for it ... if only we apply ourselves ..."

Isn't that modern-day crux of the "American Dream" broadly speaking, across most demographic groups?

That America is still the land of Opportunity ... for all ... Isn't THAT promise at its core, what makes us SPECIAL among all nations of the world ... ?

In its classic forms, American exceptionalism refers to the special character of the United States as a uniquely free nation based on democratic ideals and personal liberty. Sometimes this special character is inferred from the nature of American political institutions founded in the 1776-89 period–the declaration of independence (1776), revolution (1776-83), constitution (1787) etc. Thus the “revolution” and its aftermath freeing the US from British control are important in ideas of American exceptionalism. But often the political differences are said to be underpinned by material differences brought about by the wealth/resources of the United States, sometimes seen as a direct product of the freedom of the American people, but by others as the product of the inheritance of the North American continent’s abundant resources. This is the frontier version of the theory, and this and the ideas of social mobility and immigrant assimilation are closely tied to this set of ideas of American material prosperity. Many aspects of American history may be left out or distorted in the traditional narratives [...]

It is also important to realise that there is a “negative” version of exceptionalism, i.e. that the US has been exceptionally bad, racist, violent. While this is less a part of the common myths about American history, the attempt to compensate for American exceptionalism by emphasising unique American evils is equally distorting.  [...]

Some historians prefer the terms “differences” or “uniqueness?” Are these suitable substitutes? Whatever the terminology, the implications of American difference/uniqueness have long been debated. Some have said the difference was temporary, and eventually the US would be like other countries. Others have argued that American “specialness” stems from its political, intellectual, and even religious heritage, and is enduring.

The United States is often said to be a model which should be emulated by the rest of the world, but at other times it has been argued instead that the conditions which gave birth to the United States could not be reproduced elsewhere. Thus other countries are generally seen as trying to follow or catch up, but never do.

What is American exceptionalism?
Ian Tyrrell --

It seems generic labels can paper-over an abundance of historic abuses and inequities.  That banners can spur majorities to fall in line, as opposed to its alternative, falling out of favor.

When the sloganeers cheer on "My Country, right or wrong" ... it becomes much easier to ignore what's really wrong, and blindly look forward to that next inspiring "leader of the free world," once again turning yet another fabled-page on our long tortured history.

If the American Dream is still alive and well ... will there ever come a day, when as a nation we all collectively "wake up" from it?  To challenge it?  To objectively measure its results, for those who routinely follow its call, every-time the alarm clock rouses us towards yet another day's fruitless labor?  Seems unlikely, what with that 'endless chain of bills' being what it is and all ...

Will there every come a day when the uniquely compassionate and hard-working American people, learn to embrace, both the good and the bad that has been done in our names, by our Nation ... and resolutely vow to do Better next time ... for ALL our citizens ... and for the citizens of the world too ... Do better for those "not-so exceptional Nations" -- that we routinely choose to influence with our "unique way of life" ... be that influence, by the carrot, or by the ever-present stick.

Now, on that day, America would be truly Exceptional, in my opinion. May that day be quick in arriving.  When we all wake up, from the mythical American Dream ... til then, it shall no doubt remain, our Country, right and often very wrong.  In other words, very multi-dimensional, in scope, and in deed.

But who's really keeping score, anyways?  And who among nations, can match our overreaching Footprints?  And why should Americans care, when we each have our own impossible dreams to pursue ... such is the American Way.  (Just ask the nearest Conservative banner waver.)

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (4+ / 0-)

    What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.
    -- Maslow ...... my list.

    by jamess on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 01:06:54 PM PST

  •  Liberty? Slavery is in the US Constitution.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass, jamess

    Slavery was part of the United States experience until
    the Civil War.

    Women were not allowed to vote....

    Exceptional? B.S.

    Stonewall was a RIOT!

    by ExStr8 on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 01:46:31 PM PST

  •  Another way (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass, Radical def, ExStr8

    perhaps the primary way,

    in which the U.S. is very Exceptional among Nations ...

    US military budget comparison
    by jagadees -- August 5, 2011

    simply staggering, isn't it?

    What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.
    -- Maslow ...... my list.

    by jamess on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 02:03:51 PM PST

  •  There are some unique things about the US. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, ExStr8, Radical def

    We sure share one thing with the Republic of Ireland: we successfully drove the British out by force of arms. Though it took a long time, don't forget the War of 1912 when it comes to the US. Not a lot of former British holdings can claim that, if any of any significance.

    Our Constitution was pretty innovative, flawed as it was and still may be.

    But there are some other ways in which the US is exceptional. For instance, Puritans, fleeing religious persecution, eventually ended up here so that they could set up their own religiously intolerant State. We continued to engage in slavery until nearly every other American country, North or South had outlawed it (Mexico's outlawing of slavery sparked the Texas Revolution; Brazil was the last country in the Americas to officially ban slavery, in 1888, IIRC).

    We are unique among industrialized nations in that we lack universal health care.

    There are many things which are "exceptional" about the US--some good, and others really, really bad news.

    Frankly, what I find less-than-exceptional and more like many other countries is that we have had a Civil War and that we continue to allow the heirs of the Confederacy to dominate our political dialogue. No offense to my Southern friends, but there is a reason why vanquishing the enemy has great advantages to the victor. We have failed to do that, and continue to fail to do that. Southern politicians have dominated the dialogue since Reconstruction, at some times more, at some times less, but have hampered the Union's ability to enforce the ideals for which we fought. I know this is a controversial statement.

    We have got to get out of our post-WWII and Cold War mentality and start rebuilding what is important in our nation: the living standards and opportunities for our people. If we could do that, it would make us TRULY exceptional.

    I agree: this "American Exceptionalism" stuff is utter bogus crap.

    Santorum: Man on Dog; Romney: Dog on Car.

    by commonmass on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 02:07:51 PM PST

    •  BS or not (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      commonmass, ExStr8, Radical def

      the GOP hopeful are hitching their cart

      to that 19th and 20th century wagon.

      Dems need an appropriate, and disarming reply

      to match their rallying cries.

      thx commonmass, for the comments.

      What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.
      -- Maslow ...... my list.

      by jamess on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 02:12:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  jamess - you are right (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jamess, Radical def, commonmass

        This is the primary GOP theme and it is intoxicating to most Americans, the overwhelming majority of whom aren't political junkies like us. As you say what is needed is an "appropriate" disarming reply. I think that takes some real talent. Just throwing cold water at it by stating that the US isn't or has never been, exceptional, isn't a politically viable strategy.

        "let's talk about that"

        by VClib on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 03:00:30 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Though I agree with the first part of your post. . (0+ / 0-)

      . . . the statement

      "Southern politicians have dominated the dialogue[political] since Reconstruction. . ."

      is just not true. I know that since the start of the culture wars it can feel that way, but remember that after Andrew Johnson (Lincoln's vice president) there was not a US president from the South until Lyndon Johnson (Also Kennedy's VP). A southerner was not elected president on their own until Jimmy Carter in 1977.  That's 100 years of exclusion from the White House. That is not political domination.

  •  Exceptionalism is the excuse fashioned (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, commonmass, ExStr8, Radical def

    by the ex-men to explain the American propensity to--


    These are the predatory behaviors which constitute the "free lunch" enjoyed by "free enterprise" and denied to the ordinary working folk.  It's not that the predators have it in for the working class; it's that they destroy the resources we need to survive.

    People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

    by hannah on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 02:13:24 PM PST

  •  "American Exceptionalism", used to be used (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass the hard-core left, as a contemtuous criticism of liberal elements in the US who harbor a supposedly deluded perspective that the US is different from other countries, in that it is conceivably possible that we could have a revolution without resorting to civil war.

    That is, to actually materially transfer the power from an elite dictatorship of monopoly corporate fascism, to an actual popular democratic mandate for justice and peace, to save the planet...without having to take up arms, and kill off all the pigs, first.

    I suppose this is not entirely unrelated to the perversely twisted and contrived rhetorical ploys of the right, heh...but either way, I see things differently.

    I think you focus too much here on the enemy line, AS IF we somehow "need" to answer their jive on a tit for tat basis...which is what they hope to compel us to do, keeping us tied up in semantic parsing of "issues", with a lot of rhetorical bullshit, and avoiding the actual root issue, which is really democracy.

    The US is unique in many ways, mainly due to it's ruthless pursuit of international hegemony, expropriating the wealth and resources of "others", to then hold up as "proof" of our own superiority, heh.

    But there are other aspects as well, of our unique position on the stage of history, especially at this critical juncture.  

    Most important of which is the virtually universal aspiration to democracy in the US, for real, despite knowing that we aren't really there yet.

    This is the most urgent and critical contradiction of capitalism, as the main US claim to fame, from which all other benefits of citizenship supposedly ensue.

    That is the contradiction that we need to press, relentlessly, as the weakest link in our supposed "exceptionalism"...not so much to expose it as a lie, as it now is, per se, but mainly to bring it forward as an actual, feasible, viable alternative to the present status quo...which everyone knows is not presently really democratic, but wishes it to be so.

    I have my doubts, as to whether revolution is possible without a civil war.

    But I think that civil war will Not come from the left in the US, but from the right, to prevent the emergence of a genuine democracy.

    They know that would mean the death of Capitalism as we now know it, and of it's moribund form, Fascism, and it's the one thing they hate and fear most, in the whole world.  

    Of course, that's why their rhetoric is growing more and more hysterical and draconian, calling for political assassination, mass murder and civil war.  

    Go figure.

    I think that with a substantial enough popular democratic mandate, electorally, in terms of relative left/right plurality in the House and Senate, and down the ladders of power, that it's likely any such "rising up" by the right, to bring anti-democratic counter-revolutionary civil war, will be much more readily suppressed, with a minimum of violence, much more quickly.

    Less plurality, not so much, or worse.

    Anyway, this is not Tunisia, or Egypt, nor is it 1917 Russia, heh.

    Conditions in the US are different, in very significant ways, especially in the long- held aspiration, and expectations for real democracy.  

    That is the real conceptual battleground, and that's why I find it so annoying to see so many on the purported left eschewing the electoral arena of struggle, in favor of a lot of rhetorical "revolutionary" posturing and posing, which has Never gotten us Anywhere.

    Not talking about you there, necessarily, heh...but just saying.

    People in this country know what time it is, and who is trying to stop the clock...all that remains is to convince the masses to rise up electorally, explicitly to deal the coup de grass to the Republicans (and Blue Dogs), to stomp them down, forever, (politically speaking, of course) for everything they have done to us, and to the whole world, these many years, by thwarting and perverting our democracy.

    Bring the Better Democrats!

    All Out for the Primaries and November!


    Democracy is the most fundamental revolutionary principle.

    by Radical def on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 02:32:39 PM PST

    •  I prefer (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      commonmass, ExStr8

      Revolution, through the Amendment process.

      Getting an Amendment to publicly Financed Campaigns,

      would be a great place to start.

      Next an Amendment against corporately financed Lobbyists,

      might one day put We the People, back in charge.

      But I pretty much adhere to the Beatles philosophy on the topic of Revolution, myself:

      War is the problem, not the solution.

      What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.
      -- Maslow ...... my list.

      by jamess on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 02:43:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I wouldn't be against rewriting/amending (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        the Constitution, necessarily, at least somewhat, as long as that was done in a genuinely democratic manner.

        But that will not be materially feasible until the right has been much more substantially purged and suppressed, heh.

        With sufficient progressive/liberal/moderate Democratic plurality in the House and Senate, Not rotten with Blue Dog ilk, it would be relatively easy to enact some fairly modest electoral, campaign finance and media reforms, legislatively, to allow the emergence of a much more viable democracy, from which could flow all manner of more substantial and fundamental changes.

        Meanwhile, we could roll out the new green paradigm all the way, put everyone back to work, bring home the troops, have homes, pensions, health care, education, etc.

        And did I mention?  Actually really prosecute monopoly corporate fascist traitors to humanity.

        Democracy is the most fundamental revolutionary principle.

        by Radical def on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 02:57:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site